Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Fourth Plinth (update)

I have Alan Mann to thank for learning that the Fourth Plinth Competition was won by Anthony Gormley's 'The One and The Other' and Yinka Shonibare's 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle'. On 22 March 2008 I blogged about the competition. I'd voted for Gormley's entry and said that if he won I'd be up for an hour on the plinth. Well it looks as if I may get my wish. Apparently the process by which the 2,400+ 'human statues' will be chosen is being finalised. I'll be keeping my ear to the ground.
There was a challenge to the revolving programme of modern art in the form of a campaign to put a statue of RAF hero Sir Keith Park in Trafalgar Square. It had the backing of the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. However it appears that a compromise has now been reached by which Sir Keith Park's statue will temporarily occupy the plinth in 2010, the 70th anniversary of the Batle of Britian, before being moved to another permanent location nearby.
I've nothing personal against Sir Keith Park but there are enough statues of men in Trafalgar Square already (the other three being George IV, Henry Havelock and Sir Charles James Napier) and two of them were generals. It's time to do something new, something that looks to the future, rather than harking back to the past, something that challenges our preconceptions and encourages us to look at the world from a different angle.
Anyway Gormley's entry won't be on display until 2009. I'll let you know when to look out for me!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Happy Birthday Madiba!

Nelson Mandela is 90 today.

23 years ago I took part in a demo in Hyde Park when we called, once again, for his release and the end of the apartheid regime. I can't remember whether I dared hope at the time that anyone would pay any attention to us, or to the millions of others across the world who were doing likewise. However five years later he walked out of jail and I saw him at Wembley - a small figure on the large stage, but with that now famous smile and a wave of his hand. I watched him at his birthday concert on the telly tonight, suddenly looking much older but still smiling and waving.

I listened to an interview with Stephen Fry who was refreshingly frank about the great man, saying that if, when he dies, as will surely happen sooner rather than later, our hope for the future dies with him, then it will be a tragedy. But he is just a man, like the rest of us, and if he can live for what he believes in then so can we.

In the words of the man himself: 'Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.'

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


This afternoon Moira and I went to see Couscous at the Watershed. I'd been looking forward to it since I watched the trailer last week and read Philip French's review in Sunday's Observer, and I wasn't disappointed. It's the story of one man's attempt to make something of the last years of his life and to provide for his family and loved ones. It's a long film and the at times jerky handheld camera does not make for easy viewing, but the gritty portrayal of family life is very moving, without ever lapsing into cheap sentimentality. The mounting tension in the second half had me breathlessly willing a happy ending. I won't tell you what happens in case you go and see it, but it was as fitting as it was unexpected.

And then guess what we had for dinner? Yes, couscous. But nowhere as good as the couscous in the film which looked absolutely delicious. Our instant couscous may be convenient but it's not nearly as light and fluffy as I've tasted in North African restaurants in France.

Monday, 23 June 2008

No Parking

We are being consulted on a Residents' Parking Scheme which, if adopted, would oblige local residents to pay for the privilege of parking within their local parking zone. A permit will cost £40 a year but will be free of charge for the lowest polluting vehicles. A second permit will be subject to availability and will cost £80 a year. A third permit will only be granted in exceptional circumstances and will cost £500! The scheme is designed to prioritise on-street parking spaces for the local population and encourage commuters to use other forms of transport, thereby reducing congestion.

As someone who does not own a car this scheme will have little direct impact on my life. (I will be able to buy £1 temporary permits for any car-driving visitors I may receive.) But I will vote for any measure whose aim is to get people out of their cars and into more sustainable means of transport. If only our local bus service were more attractive and less expensive. Perhaps I shall mention this in my response!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

I've decided that this week we shall live off what I find in our fridge and freezer. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly because both are full to bursting and secondly because we're shortly to be receiving a French exchange student and I'd like to be able to stock up on something more interesting than leftover bolognaise sauce (not that my homemade bolognaise sauce isn't quite acceptable) but you know what I mean.

This could be a very interesting exercise as I'm one of those annoying people who doesn't always label the containers I put into the freezer. I'm always confident that I'll be able to recognise the contents by their appearance and smell. I've still not learnt that the process of freezing often alters both beyond recognition. I well remember defrosting what I thought was a juicy stew to go with a bowl of pasta, only to discover that it was stewed apples! Not a good combination.

Still, so far so good. Last night I defrosted a chicken breast which I roasted with olive oil and tarragon to go with the girls' couscous salad in their lunch boxes. This evening Alan and I had a puy lentil and vegetable risotto type dish. The girls had a curry. It was unlabelled. I thought it was chicken but it turned out to be beef in a aromatic coconut sauce, which was fine.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

The reason my fridge/freezer is so full is that I rarely throw anything away. Portions of leftover stew, sauces, roast meat etc are packed into containers, labelled (if they're lucky) and buried in the freezer. Smaller amounts find their way to the fridge, ingredients for the next pan of soup, sandwich or stir fry. Alan is an expert at concocting a delicious meal from a combination of most unpromising scraps. His stir frys are legendary. My dad was good with leftovers too. Could it be a man thing? Or maybe it has to do with them both being Scottish?

I've discovered a very helpful website called Love Food Hate Waste. Sponsored by WRAP its aim is to help us shop and cook efficiently and advice on how to use up anything that does get left over. Apparently we throw away about a third of all the food we buy which is a criminal waste, especially in a world where we can no longer expect to have quite as much as we are used to.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

Even if I'd remembered to take my camera to the allotment on Saturday morning I'd have been too ashamed to post a photograph of our patch, so neglected was its state. Hugh (Fearnley Whittingstall) would have been ashamed of me, especially the amount of time I spend sitting watching his programmes and echoing his philosophy. The thing is, it's not good enough to aspire to a lifestyle unless one is prepared to put in the effort to bring it about. And I have certainly not been putting much effort into our allotment of late.

Still, it's no good wallowing in self criticism, which is what I'm often inclined to do. I have learnt from experience that that does not get me anywhere, except wanting to throw in the towel. Instead I donned my gloves, armed myself with a pair of secateurs and set to clearing a path through the undergrowth. We spent an hour putting it to rights and by the time we left, although it would not have won any prizes for the best kept allotment, it was at least looking more like one. We do have a decent bed of potatoes (thanks to Alan!) and the onions are looking up, so it's not a total disaster. In fact we took home a handful of leaves from our bolted chard and a dozen or more strawberries which provided lunch. My daughter made a smoothie with the strawberries and I sauteed the chard with garlic and capers and ate it with toast.

I've promised myself I'll return in the week to hack back the nettles and brambles and prepare the ground for the possibility of some runner beans. Meanwhile I'll have to investigate what else I can plant at this late stage. Any ideas anyone?

And now that I've put it in print I'll have to do it!

Monday, 9 June 2008


Yesterday, at Bristol's Festival of Nature, I answered a questionnaire to find the size of my eco-footprint. I scored 73 which placed me in the 60-120 bracket, the European average. Apparently if everybody lived as I do, we would need an entire extra planet to support us. Not good. But it was better than beig in the next bracket (120-180), the UK average, requiring three planet earths.

However, on looking back over my scores, I discovered that I could 'easily' reduce my score by 17 points by switching to green energy (13 points), reducing my consumption of meat (2 points) and installing a water butt in our back garden (2 points).

Funnily enough these are all things I was planning to do - at some stage! In fact I have been meaning to change to a green energy supplier since the Organic Food Festival in 2006 (or was it 2005!) It's just that I haven't done it ... yet!

Reducing my score to less than 60 would make my existence sustainable, which is definitely worth the renewed effort.

Watch this space for my progress!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Our Daily Pinta

This afternoon I answered the door to a man from Dairy Crest trying to drum up trade for doorstep milk deliveries. I was able to tell him that we not only use this service but are also very pleased with it.

Our milkman's called John Mills. He delivers a daily pint of semi-skimmed milk and a weekly pint of pink grapefruit juice. The milk costs 54p per pint and the juice 91p per pint. We could buy our milk from our local Tescos where it is considerably cheaper at 42p per pint. However for various reasons we have decided to stick with John. It gives him a job, saves us from having to venture out in the mornings, is fresh, local and flexible and uses electric powered floats and recycled glass bottles instead of plastic cartons. While researching for this post today I discovered that I can amend/cancel my order online and have a sack of compost delivered along with my daily pinta!

Doorstep deliveries have declined dramatically over the last couple of decades. According to DEFRA only 7% of milk is delivered to our doorsteps today, compared to 30% in 1984. 65% of milk is bought from supermarkets and 23% from convenience stores. In order to boost sales milkmen have set up a website ( which allows visitors to discover whether their address is covered by a milk round.

The truth is that we do not buy all our milk from John. The girls drink 2-3 pints of full fat milk a day, which we buy in 4 litre cartons from a supermarket. We also have 2 litres delivered by Riverford along with our organic fruit and veg box. We can't(?) afford to spend £2 per day on milk so we compromise. That's life, I guess.